What does an annoying acquaintance and a shark have in common? Nothing really, except that they both showed up in my dream a few nights ago.


If you are into reading dreams, you probably would say subconsciously I wanted the shark to eat up this acquaintance given that I find him rather annoying. Or we could take a less bloody line of thought and believe that it was just my brain doing some mumble jumble thing at random.

I get this kind of random thoughts a lot and usually it happens in early morning when I am half awake. Some of my best ideas have come from this time of the day when my mind is relaxed after a good night sleep and before the weight of daily tasks and responsibilities setting in.

I have come to appreciate that how a relaxed mind is crucial to creativity hence my ability to innovate.

In fact, a 2010 study by Mowatt, Corrigan and Long found that a high level of stress forces people to shut down and operate in the “red zone” instead of the “blue zone” as a means to cope and survive.

Furthermore, McEwen pointed out in his 2007 paper that when we are stressed for a prolong period of time, corticosteroids are released, which can actually change how neurons and their pathways inside our brain.

To say it bluntly, high levels of stress is re-structuring our brain. Perhaps this explains why when we are under great pressure, our memory and decision making ability can be impaired.

“So don’t get stressed so easily”, we say to ourselves. Unfortunately, stress is part of our life and it is here to stay. The best thing we can do is to learn to manage stress and hopefully, give our brain a break.

Here are 3 tips to help.

Give it a structure

Have you ever had the moment when you say to yourself “I don’t know where to begin”? In order for us to achieve our goals and deal with issues and problems in our lives, our brain requires a level of structure.

Structure is good, because it gives us a sense of control . Our brain needs to feel in control, otherwise the alarm bell goes off and stress level goes up. Indeed, creating a daily routine is crucial to stress management.

So instead of getting stressed about the 1000 unread emails in your inbox, schedule a 30 minute email session twice a day. Learn to structure your life in a logical way, stick to it and have the comfort knowing that you are doing your best to get through the busy schedule in an efficient way.

The 2 Minute Rule

Based on the productivity consultant David Allen’s Getting Things Done time management methodology, the 2 Minute Rule is pretty simple. If a task can be completed in 2 minutes, get on with it and get it out of the way.

If a task takes longer than 2 minutes to complete, which is often the case, simply beginning working on the task for 2 minutes.

For many people, procrastination is the source of stress. The thought of “I will do it later” actually creates more trouble than it is worth. Before we know it, procrastination makes our to-do list an unmanageable one and so is our stress level.

Take paying bills as an example. How many times we tell ourselves that “I will pay them later”? In fact, I do exactly that all the time. Instead of quickly paying an invoice as it comes in, I drag it out simply because I can do it later.

Then one invoice becomes 2 and 2 becomes 3. In a short space of 2 weeks, I would often end up with 3 invoices on my hand that I have to now spend my mental energy trying to remember the payment due date for each of the invoices. Coupled with a busy life, this simple invoice scenario begins to complicate my life and stress me out.

So next time the little voice inside our head says “I will do it later”, we should all exercise the 2 Minute Rule and celebrate afterwards how we have managed to battle against our own will and won!

Have perspective

I was in a session once during which a psychologist was explaining to a young child with high-functioning autism about how to manage one’s frustration.

“Look at those clouds outside. I really don’t like them. I wish we could have a sunny day. I want the clouds to go away. Can you make the clouds go away?”, she said to the child. The young boy thought the lady was silly, because “no one could make the clouds go away”. Cleverly, the child suggested that the psychologist should close the window blind to block out the source of frustration, the grey clouds.

The young boy has just taught us an important lesson about stress management, which is to take on a different perspective.

Life is full of ups and downs. Being able to recognise the real issues that are worth our worry is a skill that we all must learn.

Next time when you are obsessively stressed about something, ask yourself if you can “make the clouds go away”. If the clouds cannot be made to go away, is it because the issue on your mind is truly a critical one or are you simply stressing yourself out for nothing?

Remember to live life with perspective!

Take Home Message

  • Do not let complexity of life overwhelm you. By giving ourselves a structured routine, we are in control and have a better chance in managing stress more successfully.
  • Do not allow procrastination be the source of our stress. Exercise the 2 Minute Rule to get ourselves out of trouble.
  • Live a life with perspective. Life is full of endless worries, but it is also filled with joy and happiness. Understand what truly deserves your attention and free yourself from unnecessary stress.